Even if they came close to ending the series in Anaheim and likely feel a little bit diminished about having to crank things back up in the Bronx prior to the World Series, the Yankees have to feel pretty comfortable heading into tonight’s Game Six up three games to two in the ALCS with CC Sabathia lurking to pitch Game Seven if necessary. The have to because the only other option invites the ghosts of 2004 to mingle with old dames Mystique and Aura, who are still hanging their inspirational posters in the new Yankee clubhouse.
There are only five Yankees, and no coaches, remaining from the 2004 team that blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS against the Red Sox–Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Alex Rodriguez–but it surely lingers in the minds of Johnny Damon, who was on the other side of that collapse, and Andy Pettitte, who spent October 2004 in Texas, nursing his surgically repaired pitching elbow and likely wishing he could have taken the ball for his old mates in the disastrous Game Seven.
Pettitte gets his chance tonight, looking to put the Yankees into the World Series for the first time since 2003, the final year of his initial run with the team. Alex and I both expect Pettitte to come up big, but the fact that the Yankees are 0-5 in their last two ALCS in potential series-clinching games will linger in my mind until they put a “1” in the win column there.
Pettitte’s start tonight will be his first home start of this postseason. Pettitte struggled at the new Yankee Stadium early in the regular season. On May 7, in his third start at the new park, he gave up four home runs in six innings in a loss to the Rays. In his previous start, he had allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings to the Angels in a game the Yankees came back to win. However, Pettitte seemed to finally settle in at the new digs down the stretch. In four home starts in August and September, he posted a 2.52 ERA and compiled this line: 25 IP, 22 H, 7 R, 11 BB, 20 K. Yes, the walks were a bit high, but he allowed just one home run in those four starts, a seventh-inning solo shot by David Murphy.
Joe Saunders is the man charged with extending the Angels’ season. Saunders pitched very well, and very similarly, in his last two starts against the Yankees, September 21 in Anaheim (8 1/3 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 0 BB, 3 K), and in Game Two of this series in the Bronx (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 5 K). With that ALCS start included, Saunders is 7-0 with a 2.56 ERA in nine starts since returning from a disabled-list stay due to a tired pitching shoulder.
Despite a tendency to overmanage in other areas thus far this series, Joe Girardi is running out his standard lineup tonight, complete with Nick Swisher batting in his usual eight spot. The only question now is if they’ll get the game in. They’ll try, primarily to avoid facing Jered Weaver and John Lackey in the final two games. At this point in the postseason, I doubt there’s much risk of losing gate due to a one-day delay.